MARCH 2014: Sometime in the Summer of 2013 I was chatting with a mate who’d just completed a ‘brutal’ off-road cycle circuit of the hills around Lewes. He jabbered excitedly about the severity of the hills, the muddy trails, how you could see the whole course laid out before you from key points along the way.
‘Sounds great’ I said. ‘So how long’s the route?’
When he said ‘a shade under 28 miles’ a light went off in my head.
‘That’s pretty darned close to full marathon distance!’
The Harveys Best flowed and the idea of The Lewes Marathon was born.
What followed was a series of mapping adventures and misadventures. Three of us met up and agreed to map a route, cutting it down to as close to 26.2 miles as possible. After a good deal of trial and error we settled on a southern circumnavigation of the town, starting at HM Lewes Prison, taking in the Racing Stables, Blackcap, a mid-slice of the Jog Shop 20 and a tasty wedge of the South Downs Way, heading back through Glynde, up over Mount Caburn to finish, conveniently enough, in the car park of the John Harvey Tavern.
Having established that the race should be held in Spring (to avoid a clash with the Jog Shop Jog and the Seven Sisters) we decided to hold a test event, hence the ‘unofficial’ run on March 16th this year. The idea is to recruit local runners familiar with the hills to run the proposed course and offer valuable feedback before the official launch for a full race in 2015.
Thinking about the route and the kind of runner needed I thought of Chris Moyle. Chris was a Brighton & Hove AC man, a formidable hill runner and veteran of many local races, including the Jog Shop Jog, the Three Forts Marathon and the ever-popular South Downs Relay to name but three. Chris and I trained together for many months on the way to the formidable Two Oceans Ultra in Cape Town. He dragged my sorry bones up and down these very hills in all weathers. I would surely not have made it but for his encouragement and good-natured scolding whenever I wilted. Training miles were necessarily tough, often in the foulest conditions, including, as part of our training, a memorable battle with the 2007 Steyning Stinger through torrential, freezing rain.
Sadly Chris was to face an even tougher battle not long after that Cape Town triumph. He passed away, aged 42, in April 2009. The gathering to celebrate his life was like a Who’s Who of Sussex hill runners. There could be no more fitting name to associate with our route: the Moyleman was born.
On Sunday 16th March 2014 a small band of hardy souls will set off to test the route. No chip timing or race numbers, no medals or prizes, a handful of marshals (our blessed volunteers) and the promise of a foaming pint and a hot pie at the finish (so long as you bring enough money to buy one). Looking forward we want to attract some of the best hill runners in the region for what will become an annual, accredited event, one we hope will prove as tough a test is you could wish to find over the distance. Those who step up to help this year can expect a guaranteed entry for 2015.
Future plans include the addition of a half marathon route (already at the mapping stage), a major sponsor (preferably local and beer-related) and some family-friendly events close to the finish line.
See more on Facebook – search for The Moyleman https://www.facebook.com/Moyleman?fref=ts
If you would like to take part in the test event, as a runner or a marshal, e-mail Ash Head at email@example.com . You will be most welcome.
Reflecting on a great loss to our running community almost 5 years ago, below is an extract from my blog in April 2009:
The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph
Grief works to its own timetable, irrespective of what one might be doing or thinking. Like an assailant in the night it creeps up silently behind you to wrap its cold, merciless arms around your chest to crush your heart.
Back home this morning I answered a silent yet persistent call.
I’ve carried a niggling injury for several weeks. In truth I could have returned to the Downs before today but something has held me back. Now I had to clear my thoughts, put order to chaos. There’s no better therapy than to take to the hills, so it was on with the gear and away before breakfast.
I set off under a clear blue sky, the sun about its beaming business high above, vowing to run without a break to test the foot, knees and general (lack of) fitness. Bewl’s not so far off and there’s a lot of work to be done to get round the warm, flat fifteen miles. Within ten minutes I was puffing like Billy Bunter trying to make the tuck shop before closing, skin swathed in perspiration, burgeoning midriff wobbling dangerously. My stride felt forced, restricted, as if I were harnessed atop the giant ball of the Earth, spinning the great orb beneath my feet as the eyes of the sun burned scornful holes into my back.
To distract myself from rising discomfort I turned thoughts to journeys past. To intrepid winter training runs where friends dared one another to go the extra mile. I smiled in spite of the struggle as I recalled the Battle of Steyning – the 2007 Steyning Stinger – when the heavens opened on Rog, Moyleman and I just as we set off in the lea of the West Sussex fells. The race was the full marathon distance, off-road over a desperately tricky course. For us it was a training run, a loose stepping stone on the rocky road to Cape Town and the mighty Two Oceans dream. Relentless rain lashed the rock-strewn trails, rivers of chalky filth running off the slopes to greet our sodden, sploshing shoes.
Soaked, freezing and squinting into the horizontal deluge close to halfway my attention snagged in the tractor beam of the ‘easy out’ offered by well-meaning marshals. Should we wish to do the half we could take a left turn ahead. One jink to the side and it could all go away . . . Just then the mighty Moyle called out. He’d reached the water station some minutes ahead, downed a gel and already started to shiver.
‘Sorry geezer, need to push on; gotta keep warm’ – and with that and a wave he was gone, red and black hooped vest thundering through the slurred stair-rods, away into the misty hills.
The tale had been repeated Sunday after muddy Sunday. We’d meet at the marina, discuss our route, Chris would declare the suggested path insufficiently demanding and find a way to add a limb-sapping super-steep mile or two. He knew what it would take to make the grade and never shirked the hard yards. He never let me shirk them either, offering logic and reason for the straining of lung and limb. Like the time we added a six mile ‘warm-up’ to the Brighton Half ‘to get the miles in’. He dragged me to an impossible PB that day, albeit unofficial, cackling all the way as we embraced that marvellous through-the-field phenomenon, the Law of Diminishing Arses.
Back at the Stinger, almost two hours after we’d parted I caught him at the top of the last ‘sting’, using his distinctive loping frame as a magnet to pull my sorry carcass up that gnarly, mud-slaked slope. As I staggered alongside, gasping, desperate, he turned, that wolf’s grin wide, eyes sparkling through the foul rain.
‘Thought that was you – what a bloody racket!’
I attempted a rasped reply, all flapping lips and dribbling phlegm. He saved me the bother.
‘Suck it up big fella’ the grin spread wider. ‘Not far now’.
That to me is what Chris was all about. Easy affection, brutal honesty, unswerving determination, wicked humour, touching respect and a rich humanity. He cared deeply about the people around him; not in a sloppy, sentimental way, but with a sincerity rarely matched. We shared a lot in our brief friendship; a love of films and music (albeit different tastes), the company of others, appreciation for a well-shaped derrier and a hearty lust for life. When I let hyperbole run riot – as I am wont to do – he would shoot me down with a well-aimed pithy observation, always well-meant, always on the money.
In the last few miles we cavorted wildly down a perilous, twisting drop, leaping over boulders, hurdling felled tree roots and sliding through rivers of silt to hit the hard-top finish side by side.
‘Let’s jog it in’ I offered, content to cruise home over the last few hundred yards, job done.
A disdainful glance, a chuckle, ‘**** that!’ and he was gone, leaving me trailing in his indefatigable wake.
All of which makes his not being around anymore so much harder to bear.
Today the minutes slipped by un-noticed as I crested Blackcap alone, stumbling back down the slope lost in an ocean of happy recollection. I reached home bathed in sweat, eyes burning with happy tears, chest threatening implosion, grinning wildly. I knew Chris Moyle for three short years; three of the best years of my life.
By Ash Head